Career Transition

How a Mentor Can Help You Move Into a New Industry

mentor industry change

If you’ve reached a point in your career where you feel ready for a big change, not just to a different job but to a different industry, you’ll almost certainly need help to make it happen.

Changing industries can be a daunting proposition, and that’s why many people who want to make that kind of switch never do, instead choosing to stay with what’s familiar, even if it’s boring and unrewarding,

One of the best ways to transition to a position in a new industry is with the help of a mentor, to help you both with making the decision and the transition.  Most of us think of a mentor as a person within their company that has more experience than we do but when you’re making a change to a new industry, you’ll want to find a mentor outside your company, someone already working in the industry to which you want to transition.

Look for mentors that have worked in the industry–and ideally in the position you’re seeking (or into which you want to grow.)  These are the people that will help you construct another network to support you in your new role. You can find mentors with a reputation for having broad knowledge of the industry and for helping others through professional associations, recruiting firms and consultancies that specialize in that industry.

If you’re trying, for instance, to switch from the healthcare industry to the gaming industry, there are many positions that can be transferred from one to the other. If you’re a project manager in healthcare IT, those project management and information technology skills can transfer to a gaming company. And if you’ve done well where you are, learning about the new industry shouldn’t be an obstacle. The challenge is finding contacts within the new industry willing to give you a chance. And that’s why mentors who can introduce you to the right hiring managers, recruiters, industry vendors and consultants can play such a key role in your transition.

Here are some ways to find a mentor to assist you with switching industries, and what to do once you’ve found them:

  1. Look for executives in startups in the industry on which you are focusing. Many times they are more accessible to those who want to meet to get some information about the industry, their company and the roles within it because startups are always looking for new talent.
  2. Tap consultants and vendors in the industry. They can be great mentors, because they have valuable insider’s knowledge of the industry and know many of the players within it. Their perspective often based on a more holistic view of the industry, because they deal with lots of companies instead of just one, and are more likely to know where open positions are likely to be. Explain that you’re looking to transition to this industry and ask whom they would suggest you contact for guidance. Make it clear you’re really looking for an experienced, senior person within the industry that often helps others through mentorship and advising.
  3. Attend industry association meetings and conferences. Go to local professional association meetings within the industry you’re targeting. You’ll probably see some of the same names as sponsors, speakers and even award winners, come up again and again there a name that crops up over and over, either as a speaker or as a sponsor? Those are the organizations and professionals with whom you want to connect. You can also ask other attendees if they can suggest someone who could give you an overview of the industry and jobs within in. No doubt some of the same names will keeping popping up. When you’re at meetings and conventions make sure to read the programs, scanning for names of consultants and vendors who sell to the association’s membership.
  4. Ask questions at industry seminars and panel discussions. Industry leaders often speak at conferences, seminars, appear on panels and are featured during webinars, not just to promote their companies but to find and cultivate talent. These are potential mentors, so at the conclusion discussions or seminars, ask an intelligent question (one of a few you developed before the talk or during the talk). If it’s possible, try and speak to the presenter one-on-one to thank them for their answer to your question and let them know you found their presentation compelling. It’s also a good idea to have some industry-related topics at the ready to discuss with them, should the conversation last longer than just a quick “thank-you.”
  5. Follow the advice. These mentors will provide you with advice about making the switch into another industry, things like how to present yourself, employers to target, and ways to reposition your resume for the new industry. They can also suggest contacts or make connections. Because you are asking for that advice, once you get it you should follow it. For instance, don’t ask for an introduction or an appraisal of your resume unless you are prepared to make contact with that person and make changes to your resume. Good mentors, those with a reputation for taking people under their wing and really helping them, don’t want to waste time helping someone who isn’t sincere about their goals.

Although you’ve chosen a mentor outside your industry for a specific reason—to make this switch—you’ll want to continue to foster that relationship throughout your career. Having mentors that are outside your field or industry is a smart thing to do even if you aren’t looking to make a switch. They provide a unique perspective and often suggest different methods of problem solving than that of a mentor at your company or in the same field.

Ready to get started with a mentor? Find One Here and discuss your career change.

About the Author

Eilene Zimmerman is a journalist who writes about entrepreneurship, technology, small businesses and the workplace. She was a career columnist for the New York Times and is a regular contributor to the paper's small business section.